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Review of "Motherstyles"

By Janet P. Penley
Da Capo, 2006
Review by Anthony R Dickinson, Ph.D., and Julia Hui on Feb 12th 2008

Whether reading in order to gain a better understanding of oneself, one's own mother, wife, daughter, or indeed any member of the family, there is much for each of us to learn here. Aimed at parents (especially mothers), and teachers concerned about parenting with children of all ages, this book certainly provides the reader with a series of useful, personality-type centered descriptions and advice, and may be especially welcomed by first-time mothers in search of initial tips on this subject. As many a psychologist likes to inform their students -- 'the very worst that might happen' (as a result of considering personality variables and their significance for understanding human behavior), is that "you may learn something about yourself!". Continuing to expand and apply the framework of Jungian thinking on personality types, via the worked results of individual Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (mother-and-daughter) interpreted profiles, Penley and Eble provide a useful volume here, packed with appropriate example behaviors and 'tips' for practical consideration for mothers finding themselves exploring a variety of different situational experiences.

Although we do not fully agree with all of the views expressed here, with some parts of this book certainly sounding confusing to someone knowing little or nothing about personality types, there are many reasons to take its content seriously. Without falling into the more proscriptive (bad) use of the MBTI© (for career applicant screening), the current authors use this type of personality assessment in a more prescriptive way (akin to the use of the PIC-MBTI® for training recommendation), instead making use of the identified strengths and weaknesses of each profile in affording its recommendations and 'tips' for success. The particular focus of its use in the current volume is to apply MBTI-like analysis in the pursuit of a better understanding of variations in motherhood behavior and its optimization for action, according to which one of 16 personality profiles any particular person may be said to match. Sufficient information is provided here for the reader to determine for him/herself which of the 16 profiles s/he best reflects (without the need to undergo a professional psychological testing session), although all of the following advice is directed only at providing what might be termed 'tips for motherhood'. On the whole the latter are very useful, and may lead one to understand so much (or at least provoke the reader to think so much) more clearly and deeply about one's own actions/behaviors, and those of other mothers, fathers, and even one's children.

Although the reviewer wishes to direct caution with regards the authors' use of the occasional lapse in assigning real preference  (and thus behavior) to owners of each of the 16 personality profiles (whereas these are actually reflective of 'expressed preferences' due to the self-report nature of this kind of test instrument), Penley & Eble are more accurate in their stating their claim that, when things are going well with their family interactions ".. [they are].. operating from the strengths of your unique mothering style", and that "each of the 16 types of mothers does something better for her children than any of the other 15 types of mothers are likely to do" (p.18). If I were to offer criticism re the details of interpretation and recommendations, it would be leveled at the omission of any discussion with regards the significance of variations in personality type with regards the significant variations one might expect to consider due to a particular mother's age and personal experience (especially following multiple births and increasing sibling number). However, this book is not just for (or about) mothers and mothering styles. There is much here for (and about) dad, and the children, and the ways in which the whole family may better understand each other -- and indeed, the way(s) in with they might choose to interact with other families, and without recourse to any of the soul-mate searching and zodiac-sign matching that so many other books have tended towards. The self-balancing and whole family issues (which are in particular the focus of the later chapters), are dealt with in the same light as the mothering-style sections, and are well filled with appropriate and useful 'tips' and recommended strategies for a better understanding of each individual's actions, communications, desires, and preferences for ideas implementation -- this is a great strength of this book, and a reason (if the only one) to read it.

© 2008 Tony Dickinson and Julia Hui

Dr. Tony Dickinson and Julia Hui, People Impact Academy, Hong Kong, January, 2008.